What a year

    1422

    ‘But until you have your sleeve rolled up and are about to get your shot, never ever lower your guard because 2020 exiting will not mean COVID will also be exiting. COVID is here to stay, at least for some time to come…’

    IT’S only December 2 (happy healthy birthday to Cly Wallace, Jon Sacro and Dale Singson!), but I already want to be lighting firecrackers to celebrate the end of the old year and the coming of the new one. To think that I don’t like lighting firecrackers because they’re an expense I cannot afford, and I also cannot afford losing a finger or two. But this year I am willing to take my chances, if only to show to 2020 how eager I am to see it gone and become part of the pages of history.

    The advent of the new year can’t happen fast enough if you ask me.

    It all started, at least for us in Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog, with the explosion of that little big volcano called Taal. As if to practice us all for what was to come, Taal’s ashfall sent millions of residents in affected areas scampering for face masks. That early, we saw how prices of face masks rocketed skyward as demand did the same.

    We thought seeing homes after homes after homes in communities give way and businesses go bad under the burden of ashfall was tragic, for which many were moved to help.

    But it was just a dry run.

    I remember flying into Manila from Iloilo on March 13, suffering from a cold and a bad throat. I am no stranger to a cold and a bad throat, as I get them maybe twice, sometimes four times in a year. And as I have been getting older I notice that it takes longer for me to get rid of them. A few days later it hit me that this wasn’t a good time to catch a cold, or to be having coughing fits, and as large swathes of the country – beginning in Luzon – began being placed under lockdown who would have known that thing would get worse before they would even get better?

    March 16, the day Metro Manila went into lockdown, was almost 60 days after I first began asking many questions on Facebook, such as whether the DOH was prepared to deal with an interesting outbreak in China. Or whether monitoring only the people who had symptoms was good enough. Or whether we had enough test kits. We had, the DOH Secretary assured us. But we didn’t. (And he is still there.)

    Nine months later we still keep counting the number of infected and the number of deaths.

    The good news is that the Philippines is “punching below its weight,” by which I mean to say that even though we are perhaps the 15th or 16th most populous country in the world, we are more or less ranked 40th among countries with the most number of COVID cases.

    And that definitely is far better a record than that of the United States, which has 5% of the world’s population and 20% of its cases.

    I think it helped that we are an archipelagic country. It wasn’t – and isn’t – that easy for Filipinos to go spreading the virus around the country because you just couldn’t get behind the wheel and drive. Somehow, towns within provinces, provinces within islands or regions, and regions within bigger islands were able to throw up their own individual “defense mechanisms” to keep the virus at bay, either inside or outside their territories. And yes, we would have outbreaks in a province or a city but again because we were not on one solid land mass, geography (and, sometimes, the weather) was helping to keep us apart.
    Soon there will be vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna and Astra-Zeneca and even SinoVacc.

    (But not from Merck). Developed under special circumstances these vaccines will be given “emergency use authorization,” which basically means they haven’t gone through the normal rigorous process of testing and re-testing that vaccines are subjected to over a period of years, and so if (and hopefully not when) something happens later on (a side effect that was not foreseen during the trial period that was compressed from years to months) then no one can be held responsible. The current and real dangers brought about by COVID have been deemed far more serious than any other potential downsides to the use of the vaccines. It’s a choice between what is and what could be.

    But until you have your sleeve rolled up and are about to get your shot, never ever lower your guard because 2020 exiting will not mean COVID will also be exiting. COVID is here to stay, at least for some time to come, and any one of us could be or become an unwitting carrier at best, or victim at worst, if we are to think the danger will pass as the year passes. This is one aspect of 2020 that will carry on into the new year.

    I will most remember 2020 as the year when something not visible to the naked eye brought the world to its knees. Not missiles from North Korea, not terrorist acts of fundamentalist believers of one faith or another; not neo-Nazis or Trumpists or true believers that Earth is flat. Nope, it was a microscopic virus that has changed our lives, forever, in ways very, very few every foretold. And even if you escape 2020 untouched by the virus, your life in a broader sense doesn’t go untouched. Somehow, you and I are impacted by the wholescale damage that the year has wrought on all of humanity – lives lost, business disrupted, communities isolated, individuals ostracized even. And normal regular habits of day to daylife will be irregular from now on, mostly the practices that make humans humans – social contact that enriches social interaction.

    It’s still 29 days till 2020 is gone, but in my heart of hearts I’m done with it.